Barbados Is Back
Eusi Skeete, U.S. Director at Barbados Tourism Marketing,
spent the recent Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas touting experiential and immersive travel in his home country. Events like the Crop Over celebration and the upcoming Barbados Food and Rum Festival highlight the island’s culinary prowess, he says, but also highlight to travel advisors that Barbados is a place to send travelers who want to get outside the confines of their hotel and experience the destination in all its diversity.
In May, Barbados ended the pre-entry COVID-19 testing requirement for vaccinated travelers, and followed up in June by eliminating the three-day quarantine requirement for unvaccinated visitors; the latter applied even to those who tested negative for COVID when arriving at the airport in Barbados. Skeete says the result has been a jump in visitation from the U.S. — aided in no small part by the decision by the federal government to stop requiring travelers returning to the U.S. to provide a negative COVID test.
Coupled with strong U.S. airlift that persisted even at the height of the pandemic — Barbados is served from four U.S. gateways year-round (Miami, New York, Boston, and Charlotte) and six during high season (United Airlines adds flights from Newark and D.C./Dulles on Nov. 19 and 10, respectively) — the destination looks ready to rebound from the COVID-caused downturn in arrivals. That’s particularly true of resorts catering to U.S. clients, such as the island’s high-end properties, says Skeete. “We’ve seen our numbers rebound, and going forward is looking pretty strong as well,” he says.
Skeete says that increased sales by travel advisors deserves part of the credit for recent improvements in the Barbados tourism picture. “Agents who have been to Barbados or have gone through our Barbados Elite Club program understand our value proposition,” he says. “We’re not a cookie-cutter destination; it’s an immersive destination with many diverse options for agents looking to create experiences for clients.”
In addition to excellent beaches (some of which are top Caribbean surfing destinations), Barbados boasts activities ranging from auto racing to polo lessons, some of the best nightlife in the region, and a rich history that includes a home where George Washington spent time as a teenager, one of the oldest synagogues in the Western Hemisphere, and a legacy of being the only British colony to found a colony of its own — Charlestown, S.C. “A lot of agents from the Carolinas are about to bring clients to the island and trace their roots,” noted Skeete.
With more than 500 restaurants and other dining outlets, Barbados makes a strong claim as the culinary capital of the Caribbean. The island also is acknowledged as the birthplace of rum, which was being distilled at the Mount Gay estate as early as 1703.
The Barbados Food and Rum Festival, scheduled for Oct. 27-30 after a two-year hiatus due to COVID, is “a real opportunity to get a taste of Barbados culture,” said Skeete, who said he fielded a lot of interest from Virtuoso agents eager to create itineraries around the festival for their foodie clients.
Also back in Barbados in 2022 after a COVID-imposed break was Crop Over. The lively Carnival and harvest festival is traditionally held over the course of a month each summer and features costumed parades, musical performances, parties, and the naming of a Carnival king and queen.
“Everyone was happy to be outside again, you really felt the vibe this year,” said Skeete, who himself returned home with some American friends to celebrate Crop Over in July. “When I look at Crop Over, it’s about much more than parades — it includes all elements of Barbados culture, including food and the arts. It’s all-encompassing.”
Barbados “hasn’t been resting on our laurels” during COVID, says Skeete, pointing to new attractions like a zipline and obstacle course at Harrison’s Cave, new dining options that include a second, south coast location of the acclaimed La Cabane restaurant, and the anticipated return of the historic Sam Lord’s Castle Resort under the Wyndham flag later this year.
Add in Barbados’ reputation for safety, and Barbados is ideally positioned to provide the kind of authentic, culturally informed experience that survey after survey says that travelers crave, argues Skeete.
“If an agent is interesting in selling an experience that goes beyond the hotel, the differentiator is having a diversity of options, and that’s really the benefit that Barbados gives,” he says. While travelers can go online to book a hotel if they just want to stay on the beach, says Skeete, the value-add of working with a travel advisor comes through crafting programs that reveal the destination in all of its richness and complexity.
Whether through the Barbados Elite Club program or face time like the Vegas meeting, the Barbados travel team is at the service of travel advisors, said Skeete. “It’s important for us to help curate these experiences,” he says. “Barbados is exotic, yes, but it’s also worthy of having these kinds of itineraries created. It’s important to show people what’s beyond the beach.”